October 17th, 2010

Baby and me

Book review: The Firflake

The Firflake: a well-intended Christmas present

Christmas stories — especially deliberate Christmas stories — offer even an experienced writer every chance to fall into the trap of writing didactic and saccharine fables in place of real stories. For a novice, they are a treacherous territory indeed. I think the following passage will give you a pretty good idea of whether or not Anthony R. Cardno's venture into that realm of sentimentality and miracles might work for you.

"'I am not a superstitious man,' Nicholas replied. 'There are people who would say I am magic myself. The three young men of this family, I saved from drowning. There are rumors in villages miles from here which say I raised them from the dead.'

"'Did you?' I asked.

"'I know of no man short of the Son of God who could, and I am not he.' He paused, exhaling a cloud with every thought-filled breath. 'Your people's magic is that they hide well, and know how to travel quicker than we, and that you live longer. You are different from us in only the subtlest of ways. I don't always understand your people, but I accept you. These are hard times, and people fear what is different. So they exaggerate the subtleties and suddenly your people have horns or wings, or serve a darker god. I know better. We are all of us God's creatures, and loved by Him.' And then, Nicholas sighed heavily."

As you can see, Cardno's Christmas story is one of magic, aspiring towards myth, but with a hard-to-swallow side-order of Relevance and Allegory.

In the proverbial nutshell, The FirFlake: A Christmas Story is the story of Saint Nicholas himself (better known to those of us on the left side of the Atlantic as Santa Claus) and of the origins of his annual pilgrimage to the homes of each and every child in the world on Christmas Eve.

It is a children's fable and, maybe, below that a story about the telling of stories. But for me, if the surface tale doesn't hold my attention I have little interest in delving for the subtext.

And I'm afraid I'm not going to do so for The FirFlake ...

The truth is, I don't want to write this review.

There, I said it. I don't want to write it because I believe that Anthony R. Cardno is a nice man (we've interacted online) and, more, that this slim volume is a labour of love on his part. Worse, The Firflake is a self-published book and if I can't promote such efforts, I'd just as soon pass them over in silence. I doubt my opinion matters much to the likes of Gregory Maguire, but it might have some noticeable effect on smaller fish in the literary seas.

On the other hand, Mr. Cardno took the time and expense to send me his chapbook and so I feel duty-bound to take him at his word and treat his work seriously.

So. Let's talk about fairy tales, about Christmas stories and about why it's so hard to do them well.

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ace

186 pages, 376 days

An ode to empty hands and an empty mouth

I knew the anniversary was coming up fast; I didn't realize I'd over-shot by nearly a fort-night, until I checked the review I posted last year — as it turns out, exactly one year ago today.

If the chronology in that piece is to be trusted, it has now been 376 days since I butted my final cigarette.

I'm really not an especially superstitious man; going strictly by my head I'm not superstitious at all. But in my gut, I have a few savage superstitions I find it difficult to shake.

One of them is predicting success for myself, lest I "jynx" my prospects, by angering the gods or whatever it is that causes Old Ma Fate to kick you in the ass.

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